Democracy In Turmoil & Election Stress | New Hampshire Public Radio

Democracy In Turmoil & Election Stress

Oct 5, 2020

The U.S. presidential election is just four weeks away. There is confusion about the president's COVID-19 diagnosis and timeline, with a widening circle of advisors falling ill. The president has refused to commit to the peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, and impugned the electoral process, even as unprecedented numbers of voters are opting to use mail-in ballots. We examine the threats to American democracyand the role of the media in battling disinformation. Then we talk with the therapist who coined the term "election stress disorder." Symptoms include “irritability and resentment, covering up anxiety and a sense of powerlessness" and he has some suggestions for how to cope.  Airdate: Tuesday, October 6, 2020

GUESTS:

 

  • Chris Galdieri - Associate Professor in the Department of Politics at Saint Anselm College. He’s also the author of “Donald Trump and New Hampshire Politics.”
  • Brendan Nyhan - Professor, Department of Government at Dartmouth College and a contributor to The New York Times newsletter, The Upshot.
  • Steven Stosny, Ph.D. -  couples therapist and founder of CompassionPower in Washington, DC., and author of several books on improving relationships. 

On Sunday, Sept. 30, The New York Times published  "The Attack on Voting: How President Trump’s false claim of voter fraud is being used to disenfranchise Americans."

 

The Legal Fight Awaiting Us After the Election

 

'Election Stress Disorder,' the Sequel

 

 

Transcript

 This transcript is machine-generated and contains errors.

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy, and this is The Exchange. It's been an election season like no other. Yesterday, the president told Americans, don't be afraid of the coronavirus that has killed more than 200,000 people in this country, including a widening circle of people. At the White House last week, the public witnessed a so-called presidential debate that was largely 90 minutes of shouting and name calling. And the week before, President Trump indicated he might not abide by the results of the election if he felt he couldn't trust the count. In a rare disagreement with their president, Republican senators assured Americans there will be a peaceful transfer of power today in exchange, turmoil in American government. And later in the show, we'll talk with a therapist who coined the term "election stress disorder."

Laura Knoy:
We're talking with Brendan Nyhan, a professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College and a contributor to the New York Times newsletter, The Upshot. Also with us, Chris Galdieri, associate professor in the Department of Politics at Saint Anselm College and author of the new book "Donald Trump and American Politics." And a big welcome to both of you. I know you are very busy. Brendan Nyhan, you first. You have said our nation is in a democratic emergency. How come, Brendan?

Brendan Nyhan:
Well, we have an incumbent president who won't commit to the peaceful transfer of power, that's the core of democracy itself. The losers must be willing to peacefully turn over power to the winners. And the president has instead engaged in a month long campaign to delegitimize the results of this election, to call into question the means by which Americans cast their votes and set the stage for a potential challenge to the election results that would fundamentally undermine our system of government. Even before any of the most recent events. The experts that we survey at the group that I'm one of the organizers of, which is called Bright Line Watch rated American democracy as having deteriorated in the last few years. Observers around the world have pointed to US democracy as being in a potential state of decline. And now we're seeing an incumbent challenging an election he's likely to lose, attacking its legitimacy. We know what that would we would think of that if we saw it in another country. And now it's happening here. Now, the worst may not happen, but we have to take every possible step to ensure that we do have a peaceful transfer of power and that we do have a legitimate election. And right now, the president's making that very, very difficult. And I'm very sad to say that. It is not a partisan statement. There are many Republicans who are very concerned as well. And I think it's something that should alarm every American, because if a president is able to undermine the legitimacy of an election which are likely to lose our you know, our democracy is in trouble.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Republican senators right after the president said that and a lot of them said this, Brendan, in a rare break from their president, they said, no, no, be assured, there will be a peaceful transfer of power. It's guaranteed by the Constitution. How reassuring was that, Brendan?

Brendan Nyhan:
Well, it's better than the alternative. I'm glad that they were willing to say that they support the peaceful transfer of power. The challenge, though, will be whether they follow through on those words when things are more complicated and difficult. We know the president will raise allegations of fraud that are based on little or no evidence as he has for months and years now. There will be some pretext for why the election was illegitimate or unfairly decided, and people will have to follow through on those commitments and. Actually, you know, tell the president it's time to leave if he is, in fact legitimately defeated in the election and that's what I worry about so people can say they're for the peaceful transfer of power. But very few of them have objected to the months long campaign to delegitimize the election. And very few of them have spoken up for the integrity of our electoral system. And in that context, many people will start to question the process by which Americans cast their votes, in which the people's voice is heard in an election. And that's dangerous, you know. But the bipartisan commitment to the electoral system is critical to having that peaceful transfer of power. And even if most people accept the results of the election, it's also quite possible the president's words could inspire people to take matters into their own hands, inspire political violence. There's all kinds of scenarios that are unfortunately on the table right now because of the way the election is being approached.

Brendan Nyhan:
And I just think that's that's dangerous. That's dangerous. You know, people who study how democracy erodes in other countries are very alarmed right now. They see the warning signs they've seen in other countries. The fact that it's our country makes it easy to not recognize those signs. But the people who've seen this happen elsewhere are worried that it could happen here. And again, I want to be clear. I'm not talking about mid century, mid 20th century Europe, but Democrat Democratic erosion is a more subtle and complex process. It's happened in places like Hungary and Poland and Russia and Turkey. It's easy for a democracy to lose that shared commitment to a level playing field between the political contestants, fair elections that are legitimately decided. All the characteristics that make up what we now think of as democracy, it's easy for those to slip away. We've seen this happen in other countries. It really could happen here. And I want everyone to take that possibility seriously and think about the kind of government we're going to be leaving to our children. Again, regardless of what you think of Donald Trump, the damage to the system that's going to be inflicted in the next few months is something we're going to be living with potentially for years or decades. And the stakes could not be higher.

Laura Knoy:
Chris Galdieri, what is making your political scientist head spin lately? There has been a lot going on in addition to the balloting issues that Brendan is concerned about. We had that I want to call it a so-called debate, but whatever, and also just the recent news around the White House becoming a covid hot spot. So, Chris, what's what's making the political scientist and you sort of toss in bed at night?

Chris Galdieri:
Well, I think to follow up on what Brendan was saying, and you mentioned the debate, I mean, if you look at what Trump was doing in that debate, it really seemed like he had showed up with the goal of making sure there wasn't actually a debate. You know, it's one thing for two candidates to disagree with each other. It's one thing for candidates to have a heated exchange or even get personal and get a get a little nasty. You know, listeners of a certain age will remember Lloyd Bentsen telling Dan Quayle that he was no Jack Kennedy, that sort of thing. And that's all well and good as far as it goes. But it struck me that Trump's performance in the debate, you know, it wasn't I'm going to say why you should vote for me and why you shouldn't vote for my opponent and even and even do it in a Donald Trump style. It really seems that he had showed up with the goal of preventing a debate from happening. And when you couple that with the statements that Trump has made about how we won't be able to trust the results of the election, how illegitimate ballots are out there and diving into, you know, conspiracy theories about ballots being found in unusual places or discarded and all the rest of it, you know, that is the sort of thing that really makes me worry about, you know, what will happen after Election Day or after we have a sense of who has won the election and so on.

Laura Knoy:
So we have these institutions of government and elections that we see every four years, you know, the presidential debates, commitment to our elections process and that, you know, he who loses will leave. But, Brendan, to you first, many Americans who voted for President Trump four years ago said they wanted someone to shake up established systems. So in one sense, Brendan, a chunk of the populace is getting what it wanted. Here in New Hampshire there are plenty of Trump supporters. So maybe they don't see this as an emergency, Brendan. Maybe they see this as, yeah, things need to be shaken up. And the elites had control things for too long and, you know, enough already.

Brendan Nyhan:
It's tricky, I mean, Trump said a lot of things, I guess what I would say is I think that the areas where Trump was actually distinctive in a potentially constructive way in 2016 are not the ways that he's governed. So he clearly was sui generis as a candidate. Right. This was someone who did not behave like a normal politician. And we can. People have different views on that point, but one of the ways he was distinctive in twenty sixteen was his heterodox approach to certain issues that the Republican Party had historically been more conservative on. Right. Not just trade, but the way he talked about preserving and protecting Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. He wasn't initially as committed to large tax cuts as many prior Republican candidates were, although eventually he ended up supporting them. He he has governed much more as a conventional Republican conservative. So I actually don't think he's shaken up the Republican Party. They've actually co-opted most of his policy agenda. Where he is unusual is in the lack of deference he has to established. Democratic norms and institutions, there are some norms that people may have no use for, what I would argue is that many of the norms that he's attacked have been ones that reflect our small d democratic values.

Brendan Nyhan:
And I think that's the critical distinction here. There may be certain Beltway niceties that people don't care about and they welcome Trump disrupting. And that's fine. Not all things, not all conventional practices in Washington deserve to be preserved in amber forever. But he's starting to go after norms and institutions that reflect the values of this country and the constraints that we put on people in power, which I know is a concern that is shared by many people in New Hampshire of both political parties. The way Trump is attacking these norms and institutions is undermining some of the limits that we place on executive power, on people's ability to aggrandize power to themselves and to make it hard for their opposition to contest elections fairly to hold them accountable. Trump has started to use the Department of Justice in ways that benefit his allies and harm his political opponents. There are all sorts of concerns about the way Trump has shattered these norms of how American government is conducted that undermine fundamental aspects of our democratic compact. And again, I guess what I what I would say to people is, regardless of how you feel about Trump, is that the way you want the presidency to operate in the future? Is that the kind of government you want? Not just now, because Trump will not be president forever.

Brendan Nyhan:
He's a man in his late 70s. But think again about the America that we're going to have in the future. Do you want the president to have that much power? Do you want the president to be able to say, well, I don't think this election that I lost was conducted fairly, so I don't accept its results. These are very dangerous things to be putting on the table. They have not been ones that Democrats or Republicans in the past have countenanced. And I guess I would just encourage people to take a step back. Everyone has strong feelings about Trump and just think instead about what you would think if you saw this another country, if you saw a president saying, I won't commit to a peaceful transfer of power, I need a Supreme Court justice to make sure that the election is decided fairly, that I've nominated and I need an army of supporters to go watch the polls because I think the election is being stolen from me. Those are the kinds of things that if we saw them in another country, I think it's pretty clear how worried we'd be about democracy there.

Laura Knoy:
Heterodox, by the way, means not conforming with accepted standards or beliefs. And, you know, I want to invite our listeners to join us, gentlemen and Republicans and Democrats. We want to hear from you today. We're talking about just the turmoil in American democracy, some of the unconventional, to say the least, actions that we have seen lately out of the White House and what they mean for our upcoming election. And as Brendan is pointing out, our democracy down the line. So, gentlemen, I do want to spend some time talking about the confusion over covid that we saw from the White House late last week. And then this week, there's a lot we could talk about here. But with your expertise is in sort of government and political science. I'll keep my questions focused on that. First of all, Chris, to you, what makes a president's diagnosis of covid-19 different than, you know, anyone else's diagnosis of covid-19? There's a lot of the factors there.

Chris Galdieri:
Yeah, well, the difference is that if you were I get covid-19 and we have to quarantine ourselves and seek medical treatment. Our jobs don't involve the security and protection and administration of a major superpower. And so, you know, someone else can host the show. Someone else can cover my classes or I'm teaching remotely. So it wouldn't you know, if I wasn't that sick, it wouldn't be that big a deal.

Chris Galdieri:
When you have a president who is medically debilitated, there are genuine questions over their ability to govern. We're not talking about a private citizen where they can go to bed for two weeks or just hole up with Netflix. There are things that only the president can do. There are things, their orders that only the president can give and so on. And when you have a question of a president, especially someone in his, you know, mid to late 70s, which with a host of of complicating health factors, you know, weight, other health conditions, I think he's got high blood pressure, all things that make you at higher risk for this. Based on my layperson understanding and that kind of doctor it raises real questions about. Is he actually capable of doing the job and then you've got the larger issue of the fact that a White House event appears to have been a super spreader event, we are up to something like two dozen people or more who were either at that event or work in the White House, who have found themselves testing positive for coronavirus, including members of the Senate, which is full of elderly Republicans, including, you know, White House staff, including the household staff who don't have political positions but, you know, change light bulbs and make the bed and that sort of thing.

Chris Galdieri:
And so especially this close to the election, this diagnosis and Trump's some of the really bizarre behavior in reaction to it, that, you know, ride around the medical center on Sunday, essentially discharging himself yesterday, returning to the White House. All of these things raised serious questions about just Trump's ability to function as president.

Laura Knoy:
I want to ask you about that, too, Brendan, but first go to our listeners and Janelle is calling in from Massachusetts. Hi, Janelle. Thanks for calling The Exchange today. Go ahead.

Caller:
Hi, thank you for having me. I heard earlier you guys are talking about how, you know, the democratic process of Trump was aggregizing power. And, you know, it's been very disappointing to me to not see more libertarian or independent folks, or even lower c conservatives, step up and kind of challenge him on that because, you know, they pride themselves on being localized, decentralized, and making sure the states and municipalities and what not have control. And someone like Trump is just aggregizing power and even the federal government to take on more power. And I just I wish there was better debate about, you know, the role of government and which level of government. And I think that gets back to the healthy debate of how do we keep the democratic process lower d democratic process with the people. And I think there's a whole house of folks that just aren't stepping up to have that good debate.

Laura Knoy:
Janelle, thank you for calling in. And Brendan, you touched on this earlier. So I'll ask you, what has been the response from Republican leadership to not just "I might not leave office if I don't like the way the election goes," but also the idea of encouraging your supporters to go to the polls and, quote,"watch" closely. And the idea that, you know, the White House hasn't been following the CDC guidelines around quarantine and masks and so forth. So what have Republicans said about the president's lack of regard for these standards and norms?

Brendan Nyhan:
Well, not very much, you know, if you follow politics online, what you'll often see the day after some particularly outrageous action by Trump is a parade of Republican senators walking by reporters and claiming, pretending to be on their cell phone or saying they have to go to lunch or somehow claiming they haven't read the tweet in question, somehow avoiding comment or pretending they don't know about whatever has just happened. And we've seen that again and again and again. And every so often they'll be someone who speaks out. But it's quite limited. And I would say the criticism is largely concentrated among the set of retired Republicans who don't feel electoral pressure to go along with the president. And I really worry about the the constitutional role of Congress and how it's being undermined by partisanship in this way.

Brendan Nyhan:
We need Congress to be the co-equal branch that the founders intended that holds the president accountable and uses its constitutional powers, whether through investigations, whether through the power of the purse to challenge the presidency when it starts to aggrandize power to itself. That's the intent of the system. And it has been undermined in I think a worrisome and dangerous way are the levels of partisan polarization that we're experiencing are putting our institutions under tremendous strain. That was already true under Trump, before Trump, rather, but it's become even more true now. I can't imagine that most Republican senators in private wouldn't concede that a number of the Trump actions we've been discussing have been ill-advised, but they keep hoping that the worst won't happen. And the danger, as we've seen, is that sometimes the worst does happen and you can't simply stick your head in the sand and keep hoping that we'll muddle through largely undamaged. That is an abdication of your constitutional responsibilities. And I fear that too many people have put their political careers first. Now they're politicians. That's what they do. But I have to admit that even as a political scientist who thinks of politicians as strategic actors, I've been shocked at how few have been willing to sacrifice their career to stand up for the principles they claim to believe in.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Brendan, you know, was it last week or the week before? Things have been happening so fast, I can't quite remember, but when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and there was this, you know, immediate debate over how and when to fill her seat, Democrats said, I know you remember this. Hey, you told Barack Obama he had to wait until the election. That was 11 months away. Now, President Trump needs to wait because the election is only, you know, two months away. And Republicans said, you know, if the shoe were on the other foot, Democrats, you would do the same thing that we're doing now. So I guess my question for you, Brendan, is, you know, you're criticizing Republican senators and congressmen for not standing up to some of these things the president says, including I won't abide by the election, would Democratic politicians do the same thing to, you know, preserve their own political hides?

Brendan Nyhan:
That's a great question, and I think it's a totally fair one. One of the worries I have is that these kinds of behaviors could become more common on both sides of the aisle. I'm not particularly outraged about hypocrisy as such. That's a normal part of politics. I'm not sure that Democratic politicians would have resisted the temptation to fill Supreme Court seats either under the current conditions of partisan polarization. So I certainly don't want to suggest that this is a completely one-sided phenomenon.

Brendan Nyhan:
But the crisis we face now is an asymmetric one. We just have to take into account the fact that right now the democratic emergency we face is centered on Donald Trump and the Republican Party's unwillingness to challenge the way he's attacking and undermining our democratic system of government. And I wish that that wasn't what I had to say. But it simply is the truth and the reality. And it's not a partisan statement. It gives me no joy to say it. And I'm happy to talk about all the things Democrats do badly. But at the moment, you know, we're we're less than a month from a presidential election. That is the crisis we face right now. When we have a Democratic president we should have many conversations about how Democrats in Congress do or do not hold that president accountable. We can talk about that with regard to Barack Obama. But right now, there's just no comparison. For all the flaws of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party during his administration. There's simply no comparison in terms of the threat to democracy.

Laura Knoy:
Ok, and if listeners are just joining us, again, Brendan's not talking about covid or the Supreme Court or the debate debacle. He's talking about, this emergency that he's referring to, is talking about the president's statements in late September that he might not abide by the outcome of the presidential election if he were to lose and felt that the vote was rigged. Lots of people want to jump into our conversation, gentlemen. So let's go to Mike in Dover. Hi, Mike. Thanks for calling today. Go ahead.

Caller:
Yes, good morning, thanks for taking my call. My concern is with Pence, I think that he's just Trump with better posture, not any improvement on him. And he he may be in the wings now, since we have a sick president, he may be in the wings waiting his turn. What can you say about that?

Laura Knoy:
Thank you for calling in. And I'm going to throw that to Chris Galtieri, the role of the vice president at this time.

Chris Galdieri:
Sure. Well, I mean, we know that the vice president has tested negative for coronavirus. So I would sleep a little bit better at night if I knew that he were acting as president for the duration of Trump's illness. And it's, you know, straightforward enough to do that. Under the 25th Amendment, Trump can sign over authority to Pence and take it back when he feels better completely consensually. In the past, it's been done when presidents have gone under general anaesthetic to have a surgical procedure and those sorts of things. And, you know, I think it would be a good move for the country and it would also be a good move politically and frankly, you know, I think in a more normal administration, you might see something like that had already taken place last week.

Laura Knoy:
But the president says he feels fine, Chris. And he walked into the White House and took his mask off and gave a thumbs up to supporters. So are you saying he should have done that, like while he was in the hospital? Is that what you mean?

Chris Galdieri:
I think he should have stayed in the hospital. You know, he's still contagious.

Laura Knoy:
That's what the guidelines say.

Chris Galdieri:
But he's he's still contagious. He still has the coronavirus. I would be you know, I think he would be better off being in a medical facility. And, you know, imagine if there were some sort of a national security emergency. Can he manage that while he's being treated for coronavirus or can he go into the White House Situation Room with other people and monitor a situation without contaminating them? And it just seems it's just incredibly reckless, dangerous for the country, And this is not you know, this is not about partisanship. You know, I think the caller, you know, is not a fan of Mike Pence, but we know that Mike Pence is currently not battling coronavirus. And that alone, I think, makes him more suited for even just temporarily holding the office while Trump recovers.

Laura Knoy:
I see what you're saying, because the president is still contagious and because every single guideline that you see says when you have the virus need to stay away from other people for 10 days or 14 days. Going back to the White House in and of itself, you're saying Chris is ignoring the guidelines and putting other people at risk.

Chris Galdieri:
Exactly.

Laura Knoy:
Ok, thank you for calling in, Mike. And we've take a very short break. This is The Exchange on NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, turmoil in American government. From a widening circle of coronavirus infection at the White House to threats that the president might not hand over power if he sees the election is rigged, we are examining an election year like we have never seen before. And we're hearing your thoughts. We're talking with Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College and Chris Galdieri of St. Anselm College. And gentlemen, right back to our listeners. Charlotte is on the line. Hi, Charlotte. Thanks for calling in to The Exchange.

Caller:
Hi, to go back to the overall concept of destroying our democracy, I think we have to keep in mind it is Vladimir Putin's end goal that we lose faith in our democracy, and to the extent that he's that Trump is his puppet for various reasons. I was thinking particularly the concern, some concern about absentee ballots which have been shown to be a false concern. Overall, it is more difficult for Russians to interfere in an election if we vote absentee, I think. And so I just like the commentators comment on Putin's overall goal to disrupt our democracy and how they might think it is influencing Trump in particular or perhaps the democracy overall.

Laura Knoy:
Charlotte, thank you for calling in. And Brendan, you know, at the beginning of this crazy year, we thought that foreign interference in our election systems would be one of the biggest problems that we faced with our election systems. But lo and behold, Brendan, that is not a concern that you hear about a lot. So I'm glad Charlotte raised it. And I wonder if you could just fold it into this broader discussion that we've been having, Brendan, about peaceful transfer of power, ballots, fraudulent or not, and whether the president respects the outcome.

Brendan Nyhan:
Sure. So I would just first say that the president's links to Russia and the extent of influence there is an unsettled question. I would say worryingly so. But there were many conspiracy theories that were circulated previously that there isn't strong evidence for at the same time. The president's behavior with respect to Russia was sufficiently hard to explain that his own former director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, a staunch conservative Republican, thought Russia had something on him, according to Bob Woodward's new book, because he couldn't explain Trump's behavior in any other way. So there's reason for concern, even though the Mueller report did not find evidence of the kind of direct collusion that many people expected.

Brendan Nyhan:
There were many inappropriate contacts. So taking that now to the present. What I worry about most is the interaction between the attacks on the legitimacy of the election that we're talking about, and Russian actions that could further that goal. So the president's former national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said last week that Trump is, quote, aiding and abetting Putin's efforts to sow doubt in our electoral system. The New York Times then reported that American intelligence and homeland security officials worry that Trump's attacks on the legitimacy of the election will encourage Russian interference that supports that narrative. It's very unlikely the Russians could actually disrupt the count, et cetera, but they could create chaos, generate events that would the president could then use to signal that the election was illegitimate, that the process was out of control, et cetera, via hacking and other kinds of disruptions that could be potentially conducted. So there's a real risk here. It could all be at arm's length in the way that 2016 was, where the interests of the two sides coincide. And again, I never thought I would say this. It is insane that we're even talking about this. But again, American intelligence and homeland security officials are worrying about this. This is not some partisan criticism from people who are out to get Donald Trump. The Russians could really could really be, you know, taking advantage of the weaknesses of our democratic system here,

Laura Knoy:
One concern that, again, talking to election security officials, especially earlier this year before covid, which seems like a million years ago, but one concern that they had was the use of social media bots sort of planting misinformation out there. And so maybe Russia and other actors don't go into our election system and mess around, but they create enough uncertainty and questions. And so that's another way of undermining confidence in the election. And Phil in Loudon has an email to that effect. Phil says: A patriot, he suggests, a patriotic segment of the nation should close their Facebook and Twitter accounts right now as a means to leverage those two organizations to close down for 10 days before and four days after the election. Phil says it is time to end our dependence on organizations that can foment death and destruction in this democratic nation because of elections results. And Phil also says to include the end of NHPR's Facebook postings. And that is true. We do post on Facebook what we're doing on our show day in and day out. So, Phil, thank you for writing. And Chris, I'm going to throw that one to you. What about the role of social media, traditional media? You know, Facebook, Twitter, tik tok, I mean, there's a lot of sources of information for people there.

Chris Galdieri:
That's right, and one of the things about social media is that anybody can post anything and, you know, we were talking about the danger of a period of post-election uncertainty. I think social media is tailor made for Russia, whomever, who might want to pile on to that, to start creating events, start creating false narratives, telling people: oh, ballots are being recounted at this location, members of the Electoral College are meeting here, go say hello and bring your QAnon flag or, you know, your don't tread on me, whatever. And I don't know that there's anything that can be done about that, you know, if you look at the leadership of most social media companies, they're really not that interested in policing that sort of content. They're not doing a very good job of it when, you know, when they say they're looking into it. So I think, unfortunately for the fellow who emailed in, you know, the people who are sufficiently concerned enough to shut down their social media accounts are not the ones who are probably going to go to, you know, a post-election protest event or something because they saw a foreign bot created it on Twitter or Facebook.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, well, I'm Phil. I'm so glad you wrote, because, boy, we could talk about this for a whole hour. And you're right, Phil, these organizations wield a lot of power and spread a lot of information and yes, at times misinformation. Brendan Nyhan, it was interesting that Phil wrote, you know, people should shut down their accounts four days before, I'm sorry, 10 days before and four days after. We might not know who's going to be in the White House four days after, Brendan. You know, among journalists, we've been talking about presidential election week...month. So what do you think about that, Brendan? I know. I know you're concerned about it.

Brendan Nyhan:
I am and thank you for bringing it up. It's an aspect of this challenge that we haven't talked about yet. And it's important for people to understand that it's quite possible we won't know those election results on election night and it will take days or even weeks, as you suggest, Laura, for the count to be completed. That's a moment of key vulnerability for our democracy. There will be a kind of information vacuum about what's happening. The vote margins may be shifting as mail ballots are counted.

Brendan Nyhan:
It will be easy for people to claim the election is being stolen, the elections being rigged, and to pursue those attacks on the legitimacy of the election that we've been talking about. And that's a critical moment when we need a consensus around our electoral process and to fight back against the misinformation that's very likely to be circulating, claiming the election is being stolen, you know, amplifying unverified and unrepresentative claims. You know, that's a time when everyone can play a role in calming things down and not amplifying false and misleading claims on social media. And the social media platforms are getting ready for that period. And they've created policies around limiting the spread or removing false claims about the results. But that is something a way in which everyone can play a role is by refraining from amplifying that kind of misinformation.

Laura Knoy:
Here's a question that I've wondered about and I'll ask you, Brendan. So let's say the president declares the vote a fraud. If he loses, he says it's illegitimate. What about all the Republicans who might win on Election Day? Do Republican U.S. senators and governors and congressmen across the country have to then suck it up and say, OK, I guess my victory isn't legitimate either. I mean, if Chris Sununu wins in New Hampshire and Donald Trump says the vote is illegitimate because he loses, does Chris Sununu have to say, oh, OK, my victory isn't legitimate? Do you see what I'm getting at there? Brendan is right.

Brendan Nyhan:
There's a kind of cognitive dissonance, right? If the election is being rigged, why are all these Republicans winning? would be an obvious question to ask. Now, I guess the one thing I would add, Laura, is it's likely that such a dispute would happen in a key state. So there'd be some pivotal state where the president says the election's being rigged or stolen. So he says in Pennsylvania, it's being stolen in or Wisconsin or wherever it is, and in that in that state is being stolen. But again, the Republicans in that state would have to then say, oh, I guess my [crosstalk] is tainted as well, right.

Laura Knoy:
You kind of have to buy the whole thing or not, right?

Brendan Nyhan:
You would think, but again, at that moment, we're in uncharted territory, we've never had a president reject the results of an election in modern times in that way. And no one quite knows what would happen. But again, what I want to prepare your listeners for is a difference between election night and what's likely to happen. Because the president keeps telling people not to vote, but that voting by mail is prone to fraud, we're likely to get many more Democrats voting by mail. Their votes count just as much. Anyone who votes by any legal means their votes count equally. But the mail ballots, because of the security protocols the president is denying exist, it takes longer to count them in many states, depending on how those rules are implemented. And so there will be votes counted as time goes on that may move the margin against the president. It's not an indication of fraud. It's an indication of the president scaring people out of voting by mail who are on his side and then the time it takes to count those ballots.

Laura Knoy:
I see what you're saying. Well, Chris, one last question for you, and it relates to our next segment. We're going to talk in just a minute to the doctor who coined the term "election stress disorder." What do you think, Chris? How many Americans have "election stress disorder"? And is it mostly Democrats or do Republicans have it, too, Chris?

Chris Galdieri:
I think everybody is stressed out, and to go very back back to the very beginning when Brendan was talking about the role losers play in democracy. Part of that has to be that it's OK to lose an election. Nothing bad will happen to you as a candidate or as a supporter of a candidate. And I think the the psychological effect of the upset Trump election in 2016, everything that's happened since then, I think a lot of people on both sides are really worried that if their candidate loses, their life will be measurably worse for that.

Chris Galdieri:
And that's a really difficult position to be in psychologically. And you add that to the pandemic. You add that to people being at home or their kids going to school over Zoom or trying to navigate, you know, hybrid learning and all the things that were not doing that we used to, like, remember movie theaters, you know, remember those sorts of things, remember live music concerts, parties. So I think people are just really primed to already be in a difficult place psychologically. And I think this election is not helping.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's been really great to talk to both of you. Thank you for your time. I really appreciate it. Brendan, thank you for being with us this morning.

Brendan Nyhan:
Always great to be with you, Laura.

Laura Knoy:
That's Brendan Nyhan, professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College, Chris Galdieri, thank you again for helping us out. Good to hear from you.

Chris Galdieri:
Always a pleasure, Laura. Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
Chris Galdieri, associate professor in the Department of Politics at Saint Anselm College and author of the book Donald Trump and New Hampshire Politics now coming up. As I said, we will talk with Dr. Steven Stosny, who coined that term "election stress disorder."

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. More than half of American adults identify the 2020 election as a, quote, significant stressor. In this part of our show. We talk with the therapist who coined the term "election stress disorder," Dr. Steven Stosny. Steven Stosny is founder of CompassionPower in suburban D.C. He's a widely-read author, lecturer and consultant on mental wellness. Dr. Stosny, it's really a pleasure having you. Thank you very much for being here.

Dr. Steven Stosny:
Well, thank you for having me.

Laura Knoy:
So the obvious question, what is "election stress disorder" and specifically Dr. Stosny, how is it different from other types of stresses we might have in our lives?

Dr. Steven Stosny:
"Election stress disorder" is a obsession about the election and possible outcomes. It's a general tension and you know, you have it if just before you put on the news, your body tenses, your body's preparing you for a saber tooth tiger. When you turn on the news, that means lots of cortisol. Cortisol is a health risk. It makes every other stressor exaggerated. The alert system is a general central nervous system response. So if you're anxious about the election, you're going to be anxious about crumbs on the counter, your children being too loud. Everything is going to be elevated because of the general central nervous system response of anxiety.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and with everybody at home, there are a lot of crumbs on the counter lately, Doctor. So I appreciate that. I want to circle back to what you said, though. You talked about an obsession with the election. So that's an important term, I think. Give us a little bit more on that, please, Dr. Stosny. What you're seeing on that.

Dr. Steven Stosny:
Well, obsessions are thoughts you can't get out of your mind, and when you're obsessing about one thing, you're not thinking about anything else. So the more important things to your daily life are going unattended or only partially attended. And that has the biggest erosion on personal relationships. My practice is in highly distressed relationships. Most of my clients come from other therapists and it's an emergency practice anyway. But since the 2016 election, it's been pretty, you know, I've never worked as hard in my 40 year career as I have since 2016. Unfortunately, the way that people deal with anxiety is to blame it on someone because blame gives you a little bit of adrenaline and that feels more empowering. The anxiety feels disempowered, and the law of blame is that it goes the closest person. So you might be stressed about the election, but you're likely to take it out on people close to you. And that's the tragedy of it.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Guilty as charged. Why are you working harder than ever, Dr. Stosny? You just said you've been working harder than ever since, you know, 2016.

Dr. Steven Stosny:
Because people are fighting more over - they think they're fighting over the bread crumbs. But I first discovered this in 2016. What triggers the fight is somebody was just watching the news or listening to the news now. What happened after 2016? I sure certain it's going to happen after this election. It morphed into "headline stress disorder" once the election was decided and we've have pretty non-stop headlines that caused distress. And of course, this year we have the virus and the social justice confrontations, the horrific videos we've had to watch on the news. All of those raise the general anxiety level.

Laura Knoy:
"Headline stress disorder" then is playing into this "election stress disorder". I like what you said, too, about, you know, if you're obsessed with the election, you can't pay attention to other things, including gratitude, Dr. Stosny, which is shown to help us sort of slow down and not feel so stressed. So talk a little bit more about when you're obsessed with the election, you can't focus on other stuff and how that's harmful.

Dr. Steven Stosny:
Well, it's not only gratitude, it's appreciation. It's connection. It's affection, compassion, kindness. All of those things are lost in obsessions. And there's plenty of feeding going on in the social media for the obsession. It's hard with social media to turn it off because you're carrying it around with you, it's always on. And we, you know, research shows we get a little dopamine rush when we hear the message come over the social media, some kind of an alert and we have to check it. It's really hard not to check that little alarm when it goes off, that there's some new headline. Another factor in this is that negative emotions are more salient than positive. What that means is to even recall a positive event. It has to be in a roughly five to one ratio with negatives, five positive to every one negative. And we're nowhere near that. A lot of negatives, like, for instance, in a debate, the candidates, both candidates said positive things, but we don't remember them because they were nowhere near that five to one ratio. We remember the negative. Negative emotions are more immediately necessary to survival. So they get priority processing in the brain.

Laura Knoy:
That's why I was going to ask you why that is. It's so sad. Every time I hear someone say that, you know, we have to recall five positives to recall versus just one negative, that our brain automatically goes to those negative thoughts. And you just did a good job explaining why that is. Dr. Stosny. It's sad, though, isn't it?

Dr. Steven Stosny:
It's ironic, too, because you will be happier, live longer and healthier if you can admire the beauty of the meadow. But you have to notice the snake in the grass. So your brain is always focused on the threat.

Laura Knoy:
We're talking about "election stress disorder," a term he coined four years ago, and he is seeing a lot of it this year. What about, Dr. Stosny, embracing the chaos, you know, paying attention to the election and saying, I need to know what's going on, I need to be an informed citizen? You know, you hear that from a lot of people. I can't turn it off. I need to keep track of what's going on. How do you respond to that, Dr. Stosny, when patients come to you with that?

Dr. Steven Stosny:
Well, when they're obsessing about the election going cold turkey doesn't work. You can't not check it because then you're worried about what's going on, but you can reduce the exposure to it. I personally will check it three times a day, in the morning, in the afternoon and just before dinner. Any emergency is going to still be there at one of those three observation points. That way, it doesn't interfere with my daily thoughts. You see, when we focus on anything we can't control, we feel powerless. What you have to focus on is what you can control. You can't control the election, but you can control what it means to you. You can be an informed citizen. You can even be an active citizen. You can empower yourself by lobbying Congress, writing letters, going to demonstrations. But you have to know that there is more to your life than that. Your relationships are more important. Your health is more important. If you enhance your connections you can actually take the stress of the election much better, so if you're feeling stressed out by the election, hug your partner and a lot of that stress will be alleviated. But with so many people are doing is they're picking an argument with their partner because they're stressed at the election.

Laura Knoy:
You're starting to go where I was going to want to go with you anyway, Dr. Stosny. So let's talk more about how people can manage their "election stress disorder." I'm guessing there are some listeners, you know, going, yes, I think I have this. So you've already suggested reconnecting with your loved ones. What other ideas do you have, Dr. Stosny, for reducing or maybe even eliminating your "election stress disorder"?

Dr. Steven Stosny:
Well, research shows that walking 30 minutes a day is as effective as anti-anxiety agents. It's great for mood regulation. So get out and walk 30 minutes a day spending 10 minutes a day in the sun. So try to walk in the sun an hour, a week in nature. Those things are great anxiety relievers. Write down your anxious thoughts and make contingency plans. If the worst happens, your candidate loses, what will you do to make your life more meaningful and more valuable and empower yourself. Take whatever steps you think is necessary to influence the future of the country. Now we're limited in what we can do, but we can do something. What is tragic is wasting all that energy on anxiety. The formula for anxiety is unknown and we don't know how this is going to turn out. So you can't do much about that. Times perceived ability to cope. Now perceived ability to cope is always lower than actual ability to cope. In other words, we always cope better when we think we will. And that's because we're not descended from the early humans who overestimated their abilities. They got eaten by saber tooth tigers and we're not descended from them. So think of times when things went bad before and how well you coped with them. Raise your ability to cope, know what you will do if the worst happens. And that leads to contingency planning, which is very adaptive.

Laura Knoy:
That's interesting, so I love the 30 minutes of walking a day, 10 minutes of sunshine connecting with loved ones, although that's sort of hard right now with coronavirus. But you do what you can a little bit more, please, Dr. Stosny, on our perceived ability to cope is less than our actual ability to cope. I find that very encouraging.

Dr. Steven Stosny:
Yeah, if you think of your own crisis in your own life, you'll see that when they were imminent, you didn't think you could handle them, but you did. People are very resilient. We confuse not wanting to cope with not being able to cope. Of course, we don't want to cope with bad news, but we are able to do it when that occurs. And you just have that faith that you will be able to cope. Whatever happens, I will be able to handle it. And you'll see the anxiety goes way down when you raise your perceived ability to cope.

Laura Knoy:
What makes one person more resilient than another, Dr. Stosny, and more resilient to this, you know, "election stress disorder"?

Dr. Steven Stosny:
I think it is the ability to connect other. Self-obsession makes anxiety a lot worse because you begin to feel isolated, you cut yourself off from other connections and what goes with that is paranoia. So there's lots of bad news and that can make you a little bit paranoid if you're not more balanced in the way you see yourself in the world, relating to other people. You're doing it a little bit with a talk show that people can call in and make a connection with, but they need more connections in their real life, too.

Laura Knoy:
Sure, absolutely. Well, I know you are a busy guy, especially in this election year, Dr. Stosny, so I will let you go. Thank you very much for being with us. We really appreciate it.

Dr. Steven Stosny:
Well, thank you for having me.

Laura Knoy:
That's Dr. Steven Stosny. He's the founder of CompassionPower in suburban D.C. He's the author of several books on mental wellness and relationship relationships and is a frequent speaker and lecturer on these topics. Today's program was produced by exchange producer Jessica Hunt. I'm Laura Knoy.